With much to accomplish, director kicks off new franchise with flourish

Dr. Strange

‘Dr. Strange’

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton

Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Rated: PG-13


Speaking of world domination — an omnipresent theme in the comic book universe — Marvel Comics is well on its way to dominating the superhero universe with its ever-expanding cast of characters receiving their own features. It’s all going somewhere when they finally get together in some future movie where it will take every single one of them to — what else? — stop some superhuman malcontent from taking over/destroying the planet.

The latest character in this line up, and the one that many fans have been anxiously waiting on, is “Dr. Strange,” and absolutely no one was unhappy that Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as the egotistic neurosurgeon who becomes an ardent student of the mystic arts.

Dr. Steven Strange is great at saving humans, but his god-like arrogance doesn’t make him a very popular guy. After a nasty car accident leaves his hands literally in pieces, it’s evident his stellar career as a surgeon is over. Fractured, and in desperation, he chases down a rumor about a miraculous healing process that leads him to a monastery in Nepal.

There he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her faithful disciple, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejidofor), who offers no miracles for healing his hands but agrees to teach him the ways of the mystic arts. And just in time, too, because another of her disciples, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), has gone rogue and is fast becoming consumed by the dark side.

This introduction to Dr. Strange has to accomplish a lot in its opener. The character’s backstory, his transformation and catapulting him into an event to establish his place in the Marvel lineup all had to be completed by the end of this two hour run.

Scott Derrickson pulls it off in fine fashion and does credit to the character. Only a few Marvel startups have achieved as much in one movie. For starters, the actors all seem invested in their parts, not as if they did it for just a paycheck. Most of all, Cumberbatch, or “Sherlock” to most fans, brings just the right balance of humor and intensity to the part that has become a trademark of the Marvel films. Don’t get too heavy and always remember to make room for a few wisecracks to make the characters more faceted.

Add to that some fantastic special effects and Dr. Strange more than meets its expectations. The mystic arts lend themselves to a lot of CG technology, some seemingly poached from Christopher Nolen’s shape-bending “Inception.” Some of the breathtaking stunts play out on an M.C. Escher-type landscape of upended buildings where the characters must jump from one funhouse shifting floor to another. It’s unique, if not fascinating, to see. And it brings a new dimension to the same old superhero battles.

In the end, with all the special effects and a strong first story for Strange, it’s clear that what will make this one of Marvel’s strongest characters down the line is Cumberbatch’s skillful investment in the character. He seems born to wear the cape.

As always, look for Stan Lee’s cameo. It’s there, of course. And do not leave your seat before the end credits or you will miss the Marvel signature teaser for the next movie.